July 28, 2013
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Like most young Catholics, I learned the traditional Catholic prayers from my parents and then from the sisters who taught me. In religion class, I learned the meaning of the words I recited but it was much later when a priest on a retreat unlocked the real meaning of prayer for me. “How do I learn to pray,” someone asked and Father answered in two words: “by praying.” Our prayer style, though, seems determined by relationship.
Abraham approached God with daring. He was comfortable in his relationship with God. In fact, he was even able to negotiate. The dialogue in the first reading is a delightful combination of negotiation and affectionate coaxing possible only between those who share an intimate relationship.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us to pray to God with an even greater familiarity than Abraham did. We hear St. Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. It has five petitions while St. Matthew’s version has seven. The liturgical tradition of the church uses St. Matthew’s text. In the early Church the Lord’s Prayer was prayed three times a day. It is part of the major hours of the Divine Office and integrated into the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. Given to us by the Lord, it is considered the most perfect of prayers.
Because of Jesus, we dare to call God “Father” (Abba). There are those who suggest that the term “Father” is too laden with a poor father/child relationship for us to use when we speak of God. In a Fathers’ Day address, Pope Benedict XVI responded to those who have these reservations. At that time, he said, “…in the Gospel, Christ shows us who a father is and what a true father is like, so that we may sense what true fatherhood is, and also learn true fatherhood. Consider Jesus’ word during the Sermon on the Mount, where he says: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). It is precisely Jesus’ love — which reaches even to the gift of himself on the Cross — that reveals the Father’s true nature to us.”
To understand God as this intimate figure, we need to cast aside the personal and cultural history that overlays that word. Our understanding of human fathers does not provide the context for our understanding of God as Father. God our Father transcends those characteristics. The Lord’s Prayer is about the relationship we have with God and with one another. Jesus told us to call God “Abba.” By using that word, Jesus introduced us to God as our Father in a way unheard of in the Old Testament or in Judaism.
When we call God "Father" we are using covenant language. We are God’s “children" because of our adoption into the covenant. This relationship is the gift that is the mark of our belonging to each other.
“The Lord’s Prayer reveals us to ourselves at the same time that it reveals the Father to us.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2783) The challenge is that when we call God “Father” we ought to behave as children of God.